Look After Your Mind – It All Depends

Look after your mind

The word philosophy derives from the Greek and means ‘a love of wisdom’. Several decades ago a movement started up in the educational world to encourage schools to teach philosophical thinking to children. The particular method of teaching was based on the ideas of the Greek philosopher Socrates. He believed that philosophy shouldn’t just be the province of intellectuals and academics, but should include ordinary people. The aim in mind was of showing them ways to think practically and critically in order that they should live happier and more fulfilling lives. The movement is called P4C – Philosophy for Children. It has evolved in recent years to include adult groups discussing issues in other settings such as libraries, village halls and even pubs, so that P4C now also means Philosophy in the Community.

A philosophical discussion is not the same as a debate and it’s certainly not an argument. In a debate opponents put forward differing points of view with the aim of winning. Socrates’ method was based on dialectic. This means a discussion between two or more people with different points of view about a given subject or issue, but who share the common aim of wishing to draw closer to the truth of the matter through reasoned discussion. Participants are ideally also open-minded enough to change their minds in light of such discussions, if necessary.

It All Depends

In the past I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to set up philosophy clubs in schools. While there’s not space in this article to explain all the techniques the children learned, I can at least tell you about one of the most useful of them in my opinion, which is called contingent thinking or ‘it all depends’.

An important focus of philosophy is to clarify the meanings of words. The meaning I attribute to a particular word, phrase or sentence might not be the way you interpret it. Philosophical thinkers will often say, ‘What exactly do you mean by such-and-such’ or ‘It all depends on what you mean by so-and-so’. Maybe you’ll want to keep this little technique in mind if someone says something that’s not entirely clear to you, or that seems ambiguous.

I’ll end by mentioning one school I visited that had already established a philosophy club for the children. When I mentioned this to one pupil he said ‘Well, it depends what you mean by philosophy – and school’. The club was obviously succeeding!

Steve Bowkett